Recovering from the Polar Vortex

After I attended the Tri County Grape Growers meeting last night, I left with many ideas buzzing around my head. Ohio growers are nothing short of creative, that’s for sure! As they shared how their vineyards survived – or didn’t – over the winter, they also shared ideas, which is a critical component to any grower group. This sort of idea sharing is critical in any industry, but especially in agriculture, where the technologies are rapidly changing to suit various commodities. I’m very pleased that the group has decided to get back into the swing of things and start meeting regularly again after a brief (20+-year) hiatus.

Last night, there were two main topics of conversation: 1) The USDA Tree Assistance Program and 2) How to manage vineyards as recover from this hard winter. Darlene Costilow, County Executive Director/Farm Service Agency Ashtabula/Geauga/Lake Counties (440-437-6330 33; Grand Valley Ave; Orwell, OH), took great pains to detail the USDA Tree Assistance Program (TAP), what makes growers eligible, how to get signed up, and whether to sign up if you *might not* be eligible (YES!), and other questions. Darlene was very helpful, and I think most folks in the room were relieved to have some answers and to know that they are likely going to be eligible for some help. Contact your local FSA for more information.

The big question, though, focused on what to do to manage winter-damaged vineyards this year. In addition to managing vigor, maintaining disease and weed control for this season, there are many resources to review for advice and recommendations, not the least of which would be a recent article by Ohio State University’s Viticulturist, Dr. Imed Dami or an article by Dr. Tim Martinson from Cornell University in New York. Although it is currently out of stock, MSU’s Extension Bulletin E2930 Winter Injury to Grapevines and Methods of Protection is an excellent resource chock full of recommendations. I suggest you try to get your hands on one soon.

At this point, most growers have completed the assessment phase of 2014’s growing season. THIS IS CRITICAL to deciding the next move – tear out or rehab? Either vines are alive with damaged buds (to varying extents, depending on variety), or trunks have severe damage or are dead. Several growers have already begun removing dead vines from their vineyards and are planning on replanting, whether with the same variety or a new variety. Certainly, this would be the year to evaluate varieties grown and decide which way and whether one should diversify.

Once a plan is in place, what’s next? Most Ohio vineyards are back to year 1-like training on year 2+ root systems. This can lead to issues with excessive vigor, which will need to be managed. Here are a few basic tips on managing a severely winter-damaged vineyard (the eXtension website has more links to further detailed information):

  1. Cut or reduce fertilizer.
  2. Keep vines free of insects and diseases. It might hurt to spray small vines, but they’ll be better off next year with less disease pressure.
  3. Loosely tie suckers together and, when large enough, select the best-positioned ones. Suckers are very fragile right now, and there may be a lot of them. Bring up multiples to try to keep vigor down.
  4. Manage weeds. This is for next year.
  5. Manage crop size on those vines that DO have clusters. Vines need this year to recover for the potential 2015 crop.

Good luck!

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